(This article contains in-depth spoilers for Wonder Woman. You’ve been fairly warned.)
First of all, to address the title, take any joke in the film and imagine that it was plucked verbatim from a Zooey Deschanel movie. You’ll be surprised how many of them line up.
Wonder Woman was pretty great. It’s by a significant margin the best live action DC film so far. Of course, the bar is pretty low on those. I want you to bear that in mind while you read this, because I’m going to be critical of it. That’s just what I do, it’s easier for me to criticize. So, yes, you should probably go see Wonder Woman if you have a chance. It’s a good time.
So, I’ve always been a Marvel guy. I’m not sure specifically what it was about Marvel, but when I was a kid I was always way more intrigued by their aesthetic than I was DC’s. Spider-Man and Wolverine were my jam, and as I got older I started to appreciate guys like Iron Man and Daredevil. DC, I dunno. Batman is cool, sure, but that’s one shiny light in a sea of I-don’t-care.
I begin with this because I want to make it clear that one of the issues that I have with Wonder Woman is not entirely Wonder Woman’s fault. Problem number one is an issue with the DC aesthetic, so it’s not Wonder Woman’s fault that they’re portraying the character faithfully. Problem number two is a logistic one, which personally I like a lot more.
- The morality is heavy-handed
Batman notwithstanding, DC has always had a problem with their flagship heroes being, frankly, too morally righteous; too unflappable. They cannot be flapped. Superman, for example, is not an interesting character because watching him is like watching a toddler fight a brick wall: He is physically impervious and in the main continuity his ethics get tested so infrequently that doing so is a laughable waste of time. A toddler cannot physically harm a brick wall. Nothing a toddler can say will make a brick wall cry. You know the brick wall is going to win, so why bother watching in the first place?
(As an aside, Superman grew up in rural Kansas in the 30s, where they practically invented racism. Where’s my alternate-universe hyper-racist Superman? I’m not saying it would be a good character, but at least it would give us more twists and turns than vanilla Clark.)
Wonder Woman does not suffer this specific problem, but the film does suffer from an offshoot of this problem. See, because these characters are such signposts for moral correctness, any time they get up on their soapbox to teach us mortals a lesson it sounds really hackneyed and insincere. For example, the lesson that Wonder Woman learns at the end of Wonder Woman is, essentially, that there’s no stronger force in the world than love. That’s…pretty ham-fisted, guys. Especially coming from a woman who started feeling love for the first time like twenty minutes before the end of the film. Romantic love, I mean; I’m sure she loves her family and her Amazon sisters and whatever.
This would also be great and true, except that her boyfriend Steve exploded five minutes before she preached this lesson. If you’re keeping score at home that’s Bombs: 1, Love: 0.
- The conclusion of the film (somewhat) contradicts history
One of the other things that the film flip-flops on in terms of lessons is the idea of whether or not humans are inherently good. Wonder Woman believes that they are, and that war is a product of the corrupting influence of Greek god Ares, but boyfriend Steve claims that some people are just dicks. Near the end of the film, Wonder Woman realizes that one of the Germans (this is WWI, in case you didn’t know) is actually Ares in disguise, so she does the sensible thing and runs him through the chest with a sword. She’s then devastated to realize that the war continues around her.
Great! So the lesson is that humans are in full control of their destinies. Sure, we sometimes go to war and murder the shit out of each other, but at least we’re not being controlled by a vindictive God. Except no, it turns out that Ares is actually in disguise as a British general after all. Wonder Woman kills him, too, and then the Germans all kind of drop their guns and surrender.
Okay, that’s also fine, I suppose. War is caused by the corrupting influence of Ares, but he’s dead now, so we can all get along. Sweet! Thank God that there was never any other major global conflicts after World War I.
Seriously though, what’s the lesson here? We know that war didn’t just stop at the start of the 1920s. What’s more, we know that there’s an enormous number of significant sociocultural factors that led to World War II. Well Scott, Ares clearly didn’t die, I hear you already saying. Okay, sure, that’s a possibility. But was Ares at the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, ensuring that the terms were grossly skewed against the Germans? Did Ares tank the German economy? Is that something he can just do? That sounds wrong to me.
Wonder Woman decides that she needs to protect humanity out of love for them, and presumably for her dead boyfriend. But if humans need protecting from each other regardless then why did you kill Ares? And if killing Ares was necessary then why do we need protecting now? Does Ares govern small conflicts? Fist fights? Where’s the line? What did defeating him solve? What is the nature of humanity, Wonder Woman? Your moral subtext doesn’t make sense.
I’ll leave it at that for now, because frankly I don’t think the movie really deserves to be shit on any more than that. It’s honestly a pretty fun ride—my official score is that I’m glad I saw it, but I probably wouldn’t pay money to see it again. It’s the best live-action film that the DC cinematic universe has produced so far, but as superhero movies go it’s kind of middling. Check it out for yourselves, I would love to hear what other people think about it.